Australia Rugby League men's coach Mal Meninga

Rugby League World Cup: Australia favourites to retain their title

Defending champions Australia enter the men’s 2021 Rugby League World Cup looking to make it nine titles from the last ten tournaments. 

Mal Meninga’s side are favourites, but they haven’t played an international match since 2019 and 13 of their 24-man squad are set to make their debuts at this World Cup.

The legendary Meninga will aim to repeat his coaching success from the 2017 edition of the tournament where the Kangaroos averaged a winning margin of over 32 points. 

England in the final was their closest match, a 6-0 win for the hosts at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane. 

This year’s tournament was delayed from 2021 following Australia and New Zealand’s decision to withdraw due to the pandemic.

The standout players

Full-back James Tedesco will captain the side as he does for both club and state at the Sydney Roosters and New South Wales.

His game is built around speed and an ability to change direction alongside defusing kicks and returning them with interest.

He finished second in Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) for run metres this season and led the league in tackle breaks. 

Another essential part of Australia’s spine is five-eighth Cameron Munster, three time NRL player of the year in his position.  

Capable of winning games by himself, the 28-year-old can slice open defences with big sidesteps, cut-out balls, or his uncanny skill at one-on-one strips.

A young contingent of forwards will look to put the Kangaroos on the front foot, headlined by Tino Fa’asuamaleaui.

Although only 22, he has already won the NRL Grand Final and is the captain of club side the Gold Coast Titans.

He will bring aggression in both attack and defence alongside an ability to shift the ball well, shown in his recent try assist for the Australian Prime Ministers XIII just last month. 

The schedule 

Australia are in Group B of this year’s World Cup with Fiji, Scotland and the side which Tedesco played for at the previous two tournaments, Italy.

Their first and most difficult test is against Fiji who are led by one of the most destructive players in the NRL, Viliame Kikau, and his Penrith Panthers teammate Api Koroisau. 

Penrith have won the two most recent NRL Grand Finals the latter of which was on 2 October meaning Kikau’s club teammates won’t play the first game. 

Both Kangaroos vice-captain Isaah Yeo and the most complete player in the world Nathan Cleary are among those rested by Meninga.

Their group state fixtures are as follows (BST): 

Sat 15 October, Australia v Fiji (7.30pm, Headingley Stadium, Leeds)

Fri 21 October, Australia v Scotland (7.30pm, Coventry Building Society Arena, Coventry)

Sat 29 October Australia v Italy (7.30pm, Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens)

To read South West Londoner’s guide to the men’s, women’s and wheelchair tournaments click here

Featured image credit: reepy_au via Flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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